Home Hudson County Hoboken’s Hobo Cat who Cat-ptivated a Nation

Hoboken’s Hobo Cat who Cat-ptivated a Nation

by Eliot Hudson
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Ninety years ago this week, during the heart of the Great Depression, a cat from Hoboken melted hearts across America when she took to the rails in search of adventure. In 1933, newspapers from Pittsburgh to Pasadena, Maine to Miami, and from Baltimore to Boston all carried front page headlines of Betty — Hoboken’s hobo cat. Read on to learn more about the history of Hoboken’s hobo cat.

hobo cat history hoboken

Train Hoppers from Hoboken

After the great Stockmarket crash of 1929, many Americans took to the rails to find work — without money, many simply train-hopped, hoping to find better prosperity wherever the train lines might lead. Hoboken’s proximity to New York and its vast rail network disseminating throughout the country led many to hop onto trains at Hoboken — and for that reason, many speculate the word “Hobo” actually comes from the word “Hoboken”.

Perhaps Americans in 1933 identified with a cat who sought to take to the rails — perhaps Americans simply needed a good news story to distract from the frustrating economic news. Whatever the reason, the “Hobo Cat from Hoboken” struck a chord throughout the United States.

hobo cat

^ A photo published in The Miami Herald

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Suddenly, overnight, the nation became enchanted by “a gray cat, who…threw the employees of the Lackawanna Railroad into a panic by placidly riding the rods of a through express to Buffalo as far as Dover.” (Courier-News, Plainfield, NJ)

Read More: Quirky Cats in Hudson County: Our Readers Share Their Pets’ Funny Anecdotes

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Betty the Cat

Betty had a cushy job as the mouser for the Hoboken terminal. In addition to mice, Hoboken’s station-master, Henry Byrnes, made sure Betty had fresh turkey each day. The Holyoke Daily Transcript and Telegram (of Massachusetts) explained that “Betty was a gourmand who insists upon turkey meat daily, and who does a bit of mousing on the side merely out of sentimental regard for a tradition.” But when the restaurant at the Lackawanna terminal was closed, Betty decided to try her luck on the rails, riding the bumpers of the Lackawanna Limited—an express train from Hoboken to Buffalo, with through trains to Cleveland and Chicago.

hobo cat

As Plainfield’s Courier-News explained, “[Betty] was first noticed at Morristown by the station master at 11:07AM. The station master’s surprise was rewarded with a glance of bored disdain from Betty, who was curled comfortably on the rear truck of the fourth coach.” Betty would ride another 10 miles to Dover, NJ before she was approached by train officials.

The Baltimore Sun described the scene upon Betty’s arrival in Dover: “[When the train] rolled to a stop, thirty-seven miles from Hoboken, there was Betty, with her whiskers pushed back a bit by the high wind and with her usually orderly fur a bit ruffled, but calm as you please, just waiting for the limited to start on its way again.”

Like most cats, Betty preferred her purr-sonal space, and rather than allowing herself to be caught, she leapt from the train and high-tailed it. The Miami Herald wrote, “You wouldn’t have known her for the quiet, respectable cat she was around her home station…She put up her back and spit most disrespectful. Then she hopped off the train and ran away.”

hobo cat

^ A headline about Betty in The Miami Herald

Dismayed, Hoboken telegraphed the Dover Station frantically and officials spared no expense, sending search parties with lanterns.

Eventually, Betty was found in a nearby lumberyard. At the Dover station, a train from Chicago to Hoboken was flagged down to take on a new, furry passenger.

See More: How a Car Was Named After the Town of Montclair

Why, Betty? Why?

Many newspapers speculated as to why Betty would give up her comfy life for one of adventure. The Boston Globe mused, “Lackawanna Railroad gladly would have given her a ride if she only had asked.”

hobo cat 2

The Miami Herald asked the opinion of Hoboken’s stationmaster, George Marin: “Betty’s a different kind of a cat…I don’t understand her acting up like this, without warning. I guess she got a touch of that old itching foot, like most humans get sometimes.”

Perhaps one of the better explanations comes from The Daily Journal, of Vineland (NJ):

“Betty may have received a cat-o-gram from a boyfriend in Buffalo, and just packed up in her fur coat and went, figuring she was an employee of the railroad and entitled to chisel a ride. If she forgot her position as a lady to the extent of spitting at the station hands, ’twas because they shouldn’t have attempted to lay hands on a lady and she had no other way of telling them so.”

According to The Morning News — of Wilmington, Delaware — the three Railroad men who rescued Betty were awarded certificates of honor by the Humane Society of New York.

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